In an effort to curb emissions, Alberta is continuing to pump millions of dollars into carbon capture technologies.
This week, Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) announced it was investing $40 million of public money into 11 carbon capture projects to help position the province for even greater funding opportunities from Ottawa. The ERA funding also aligns with the province’s plan to invest over $300 million over the next four years in further carbon capture projects.
Projects in oil and gas, electricity generation, cement, and others received funding. Canadian Natural Resources, Heartland Generation, Lafarge Canada, Capital Power Generation and Strathcona Resources each got $5 million from the fund. Entropy Canada, Agrium Canada Partnership, Enmax Energy, City of Medicine Hat, Vault 44.01, and Suncor Energy also received funding in amounts ranging from $950,000 to $3.3 million. The province says these investments “could lead to over $20 billion in capital expenditures.”
“We are serious about advancing and commercializing CCUS technologies in this province,” said Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, a former Enbridge lobbyist. “Carbon Capture Kickstart is another important investment that will help enhance the competitiveness of our energy sector and strengthen Alberta’s position as a world leader in developing CCUS technologies.”
The federal government is committed to carbon capture plans, too. In April, it unveiled plans for a contentious carbon capture investment tax credit that would make $2.6 billion available over five years to trap and store planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions. Last week, Natural Resources Canada opened a call for proposals to invest $50 million in large-scale CCUS projects.
But critics say this is the wrong approach for several reasons. The concerns climate advocates and experts have are that CCUS is expensive, doesn’t work as advertised, and isn’t relevant to short-term emission reduction goals, while renewables are cheaper and proven.
Existing carbon capture projects, like SaskPower’s Boundary Dam or Shell’s Quest facility near Edmonton, have failed to reduce emissions as promised. Boundary Dam consistently failed to meet its 90 per cent capture rate, and lowered its target to an easier 65 per cent it still regularly fails to meet. Quest’s capture rate is so bad, it actually emits more greenhouse gases than it captures, according to a report from international NGO Global Witness.
Even if these projects worked as advertised, they do nothing to capture the 80 per cent of emissions that come from fossil fuels when the product is ultimately burned. Carbon capture is aimed squarely at the fraction of emissions related to extracting and transporting it to the consumer.
“Not all emission reduction is equal,” International Institute for Sustainable Development policy adviser Vanessa Corkal told Canada’s National Observer. “There seems to be a tacit acceptance that this is a viable path forward, and I don't think that we have sufficiently challenged that assumption.
“It's really important to ground how realistic this particular solution is in the global context and what key experts are saying,” she added.
Alberta is investing millions into carbon capture to curb emissions and help companies tap even more public money from Ottawa, but critics say the plan risks locking in fossil fuels for the long haul. #cdnpoli #CCUS
Climate experts agree the role of CCUS in meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of holding global warming to 1.5 C should be extremely limited and used only for vital industries for which there are limited options. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers CCUS to be a tool of last resort because while it could play an important role in helping to decarbonize sectors like cement and steel making, it’s ultimately a relatively expensive and ineffective technology when compared to switching to renewable sources of energy or investments in energy efficiency.
Experts in Canada urged the federal government earlier this year to drop its carbon capture “pipe dream.” A letter signed by more than 400 academics across the country called on Ottawa to scrap its planned investment tax credit and shredded the technology’s raison d'être.
“Put simply, rather than replacing fossil fuels, carbon capture prolongs our dependence on them at a time when preventing catastrophic climate change requires winding down fossil fuel use,” the letter reads. “Relying on CCUS preserves status quo fossil fuel development, which must be curtailed to meet global climate commitments.”